JournalJul 2015

Oskar the Slackbot is now open source

Last week and the week before we blogged about our new Slackbot that helps eliminate remote isolation in our team.

Say hello to Oskar on GitHub, cause he’s now open source

This week we’re happy to announce that we decided to make Oskar open source. Head to the following repository to try, experiment, fork and contribute:

Why open source?

We knew that we wanted Oskar for internal use at Hanno–that was the original motivation behind building him. But we also considered whether there was potential to make a bigger deal out of the product, and perhaps to make the product public, so that other remote teams could use it as well. But since we’re not looking to become a product company and our real passion lies in running design sprints and using rapid prototyping to help our clients, we quickly realised that there might be a few downsides to building our own monetised product:

  • We’d have to offer proper support to our users
  • The development time needed would drain our internal resources
  • We’d have to update, maintain and improve it on a regular basis

Now, we know how great it is to develop a great idea into a real-world product. But we couldn’t ignore the downsides.

Thankfully, Lean Validation saved us from going down the wrong path

One thing that we do all the time with clients is to help them validate product concepts and figure out which direction to take them in. So the skills we use with our clients were perfect here as well: before committing resources to Oskar, we had to evaluate whether building out an entire product and offering it to other teams would be worth the effort and cost.

So we ran a sweet and short Lean Validation sprint to figure out if our idea had a marketable audience that would justify the investment.

Our first landing page to briefly describe what Oskar is about and to measure interest

We started off by setting up a landing page to show what Oskar is, and what he does. We build this page in about a day and set up a simple email form linked to Campaign Monitor, so that people who were interested in the product could sign up and receive a notification when Oskar was launched. That would allow us to observe how big a market there really was for the product.

We then started promoting that landing page via Twitter, Facebook and our blog. The result: about 20 users signed up during the first two days. That wasn’t too bad, but it looked like it wouldn’t be enough demand to justify a full-scale launch.

Of course, we could have been much more ambitious with our testing and tried to find larger demand, but this quick little experiment really helped us to understand what the demand for our product was and to choose our next steps. Subsequent signups in the week or two after launching the landing page (and feedback on Twitter) has shown us that there’s a small but vocal niche of people who are keen to give Oskar a go… but not a large enough market to justify the investment in building and supporting the product by ourselves.

That’s totally fine from our perspective–we’re happy enough with Oskar’s value as an internal tool. But it’s the reason we’ve decided to release him into the community for free.

Doing social good through open source

After experimenting with Oskar for a couple of weeks, we are convinced that he can have a positive impact for remote teams using Slack. He’s already made several contributions to our team that have helped us to spot internal problems that we’d have taken a while to notice without him. He definitely meets our objective to help remote teammates feel less isolated and unsupported.

By open-sourcing him, we want to contribute to creating a better work environment for remote teams like ours. And although we think he’s doing a good job with the basics, there are plenty of opportunities for people out there to tweak and improve him according to their needs. A few examples include:

  • Oskar could encourage people to chat more frequently, and help them to set up video calls
  • He could spot positive and negative streaks of daily ratings, and make sure other teammates are aware of those
  • If you’re adding clients or other people to your Slack, he could even ask them how they’re feeling during projects

We are proud to see that the seed we’ve planted during a Design Thinking workshop in Buenos Aires some months ago has actually turned into a real product that’s helping to address the problem we set out to solve. We hope that Oskar can help you solve some of your own remote problems too.

Feel free to tweak it, change it, break and fix it. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback in the comments or by posting your ideas and bugs as GitHub issues in the repository.

Posted by
Marcel Kalveram

With Hanno since 2014, Marcel is an experienced engineer and a React Native expert.